On Feel Great Breaks Yoga Holidays I teach a guided meditation called Maitri, in which I ask guests to bring to mind certain people in their life to acknowledge that all people on this planet deserve compassion.
I suggest that they bring to mind as clearly as possible in the first instance, themself, then a close family member, a best friend, an acquaintance, a stranger, and even a person they might not get along with, and to acknowledge that all were born from love; all give and receive love, and all deserve love. They try to imagine a connection, a cord, or beams of sunlight being shone from their heart to the heart of the other person; and they visualize these rays being sent back to them creating a two way connection. These connections then grow to create a web of love and interconnectedness. .
The hope is, that they start to consider that all human beings should be treated with compassion and love. As the saying goes, the peace we want to see in the world has to start with you, and your relationships. How can there be ever be peace in the world if we can’t get our own affairs in order.
Being compassionate is a phenomenal quality often lacking in the world at large. We seem to judge, condemn, and wish others harm, often without considering how or why people do the things they do.
Compassion is defined as a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate that suffering. It is unconditional, wide ranging and inclusive, and therefore it has to also extend to those who do harm or commit heinous crimes.
Do you consider yourself a compassionate person, or are there provisos or conditions ? In forgiving a huge outrage, even a personal insult or attack, are you able to forgive, or you bitter and hold a grudge?
It seems in life that there are always certain people, events or actions that push our buttons, and our reactions are often far from being compassionate. These are tests. How can we develop our compassion if we’re not given tests? More often than not however, our compassion is absolutely conditional. We offer it to some, but not to all. We offer it to our friends and family, and those we know or who make us feel good, but not to those who question us, disagree with us or annoy us.
But, can we and should we extend our compassion to everyone unconditionally? And, thinking about the definition, try to alleviate their suffering, even if they have done us terrible harm?
The Dalai Lama says “When we are motivated by compassion and wisdom, the results of our actions benefit everyone, not just our individual selves or some immediate convenience. When we are able to recognize and forgive ignorant actions of the past, we gain strength to constructively solve the problems of the present.”
As a victim, (for want of a better word) of violent domestic abuse at the hands of my first husband, I was blinded by my thirst for revenge after the relationship ended. It was years before I thought about forgiving him, but I did, and I feel better for it. I hope he sought help. He was an alcoholic. I was eventually able to consider him, why he did what he did and I considered his family. I acknowledged that he had to be suffering too, as no-one in their right mind would want to harm another, especially his wife.
An article on raptitude.com says, ‘Compassion is not bleeding-heart liberalism. It is not pity. It’s simply an intelligent response to the world’s biggest problem. The kill-the-bad-guys approach has never worked, it’s time to smarten up. It’s based on the falsehood of good and evil, rather than the unfortunate reality that normal humans are capable of horrible things under certain circumstances.’
I couldn’t talk about my experiences for years, but eventually I accepted what had happened and allowed myself to move forward. I survived and I now have the utmost compassion for all those involved in domestic violence, on both sides of the relationship. For me it is no longer black and white.
Time along with an understanding of various philosophies helped me look at what happened objectively. Thanks to what happened I can now apply the same forgiveness and understanding to perpetrators of crimes I once thought unforgivable.
Surely this is the right way to go. You cannot let events affect you forever, harboring negativity and hatred and letting it eat away at your soul.
We have all heard stories about relatives forgiving murderers of their family members. In one such story, American Bill Pelke received a phone call one day to tell him his nana had been murdered by four teenage girls.
Paula Cooper, the ringleader, was sentenced to death and at the time Pelke felt the death penalty was appropriate. He then started wondering what impact the death penalty would have on her family, especially her grandfather who he had seen break down when the sentence was handed down.
“My grandmother would not have wanted this old man to witness his teenage granddaughter die,” he says. Pelke became increasingly convinced that his grandmother would have felt love and compassion for Cooper and would have wanted someone in her family to feel the same. He says his decision to forgive brought him “tremendous healing.” He even met Cooper in prison, told her that he had forgiven her and even campaigned for her release.
“If you hang on to anger and the desire for revenge, eventually it becomes like a cancer and it will destroy you,” he says. Pelke knows that there are a lot of people who don’t understand him, but for him the decision to forgive changed his life.
So, if you consider yourself a compassionate person, you cannot have provisos or conditions to your compassion. It’s all or nothing. People can and will act out of character, and can seriously fuck up at times, but we are all born from love, give and receive love, and we all deserve love.
Circumstances can change and affect us and we are all capable of making a mess of things, but we all deserve compassion and forgiveness too. I know my first husband had issues with his father and he didn’t seek help. He was a tortured soul and he deserves my compassion. He deserves a chance to be better, to get better, and to try to be a decent husband to his next wife.
As Steve Maraboli says, If people refuse to look at you in a new light and they can only see you for what you were, only see you for the mistakes you’ve made, if they don’t realize that you are not your mistakes, then they have to go.”
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